In their own times, cable television, the Internet, and reality shows each made it easier than ever to hit the A-list.
These days it seems that we have more famous faces than ever, and as a result, we mourn the loss of more celebrities each year.
But the biggest stars who left us in 2014 were no flash-in-the-pan personalities who hit it big on social media or YouTube.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, and Maya Angelou are names that will be recognized and revered by future generations.
Their lives and work will be studied and admired, and their passings will be mourned by actors, writers, and comics who have yet to be born.
Perhaps when Hoffman passed away so unexpectedly at the age of 46, we should have realized 2014 would be a year of unimaginable loss for the world of entertainment.
But even with such a grim omen so early in the year, no one could have predicted the suicide of Robin Williams - a man whose gift for making others smile concealed the scars of a lifelong struggle with addiction and depression.
No one could have guessed we would lose Joan Rivers at the age of 81, not when the comedy legend was still performing nightly and making headlines daily.
Similarly, Maya Angelou's work remains so vibrant and vital, it's nearly impossible to imagine a future without her poignant contributions to our national conversations.
But it's not just the literary icons and Hollywood legends whose loss was mourned by millions in 2014:
MTV personality Diem Brown inspired millions through her brave battle with cancer.
Casey Kasem ushered in the modern radio era, and his deft banter will remain as widely imitated as his one-of-a-kind voice.
Lauren Bacall, Sid Caesar, Ann B. Davis, Eli Wallach, James Avery, Elizabeth Pena, and James Garner may not have been at their most active career-wise in their final years, but news of their passings affected the many millions who connected to them through their work, and enjoyed the bond we feel with the screen stars capable of making us laugh, cry, and feel that we're fully understood by someone we've never met.
Check out the slideshow above for a full list of the stars whose light we lost in 2014.